In a setback to 1985-batch Punjab-cadre Indian Forest Service ( I FS) officer Harsh Kumar, the Punjab and Haryana high court has directed the Punjab government not to consider his case for promotion as chief conservator of forests till the conclusion of criminal or departmental proceedings against him.
Kumar’s name had cropped up in ille g alities in the construction of the Forest Hill Golf Resort owned by Col BS Sandhu (retd) at Karoran (Mohali). The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had conducted raids at his residence, along with those of other IFS and IAS officers, in April 2006.
The decision came from the division bench comprising justices Hemant Gupta and Fateh Deep Singh on an appeal filed by the Punjab gover nment, challenging orders of the Chandigarh bench of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) of November 11, 2013.
The tribunal had said that Kumar was entitled to be considered for promotion to the level of chief conservator of forests with ef fect from Se ptember 2008 since on that date, no charge sheet was issued or pending against him either in the departmental proceedings or criminal proceedings.
However, the high court found that the tribunal had erred in law and in allowing the original application filed by Kumar. Setting aside the tribunal order, the court said, “The sealed cover shall be opened only after the conclusion of the criminal or departmental proceedings, which have since been initiated against the applicant (Harsh Kumar).”
The vacancy became available on the retirement of Swaran Singh, then chief conservator of forests, on September 30, 2008, but the first meeting to fill the post was held on March 29, 2011. Since the criminal case was pending against Harsh Kumar, his case was kept in a sealed cover.
Thereafter, de par t mental proceedings were initiated against him, for which a charge she et was served on February 10, 2012. The central government had earlier granted sanction to prosecute the officer in December 2008 but withdrawn the prosecution sanction in February 2011 after consultation with the union ministry of law.
FOREST HILL SCAM
Forest Hill Golf Resort and Country Club, worth more than Rs. 100 crore, was allegedly constructed at Karoran village in Mohali district on reserved forest land in violation of all norms. The controversy had cropped up in 2003-04, with senior IFS and IAS officers being accused of conniving with the owner (retired colonel BS Sandhu) in circumventing forest laws.
It was in October 2004 that the Punjab and Haryana high court had directed to demolish the golf course and ordered the CBI to probe the case.
The case went up to the Supreme Court-level and on the last date of hearing, the apex court had remanded back the case to the high court for a fresh decision.